Sunday, 29 November 2009


As Croatia looks to the future and to the 2012 European Championship Qualifying Campaign, several younger players will be looking to step up into the first team. 35 year old Robert Kovac has been the first to step aside, though striker Ivica Olic, Ivica Knezevic and Josip Simunic will stay on as are still important to the team. A number of the elder fringe players may not have a future in the Croatian national team. So who should stay and who should go?

IVAN KLASNIC, Bolton Wanderers, Age 30
39 caps, 12 goals
Klasnic's goal at the weekend against Europa Liga qualifiers Fulham shows he is still the killer in the box which made him a much loved player at Werder Bremen. Klasnic now only plays an occasional support striker role at club and international level, but is likely to come under huge competition for his jersey from Nikica Jelavic, Mario Mandzukic and Mate Bilic which could cause his removal from the squad. With 12 goals for Croatia, Klasnic has been more than useful for the national. Klasnic was widely regarded to have been wasted by Otto Baric riding the pine during Euro 2004, but did play during the 2006 World Cup under Zlatko Kranjcar. However this was only a year before serious illness resulting in kidney failure which led to two transplant operations. Klasnic made a remarkable return to high level football scoring 7 times for Werder Bremen during the second half of the season and then cracking in important strikes during Croatia's Euro 2008 campaign. During 2010 World Cup qualifying Klasnic was again arguably wasted 5 times mainly as substitute scoring 1 goal. 2012 could possibly be a step too far for a player whose speed his decreased as a consequence of his illness and period spent out the game. If Klasnic is willing he could be of use to Croatia during periods of injury, but due his natural decreased level of workrate Klasnic could lose out to the more agile Mate Bilic and Jelavic in the forthcoming games.

IGOR BUDAN, Palermo, 30
6 caps, 0 goals
Whilst illness has impacted on Klasnic, Croatia has never managed to get Igor Budan fit. Currently Budan is one of few Croatian success stories in Serie A having performed excellantly with Atalanta, Parma and Ascoli. Budan's issue however has always been his injury problems which has left him with no real international career worth mentioning. This season is the first season where Budan has been properly fit in two years and the player when years continues to remind Croatia of his quality. Budan is a robust forward which Croatia do not possess in Eduardo, Petric, Olic and Mate Bilic. Budan is excellant in the air, but also neat on the ground. It is likely Budan may need a spree of goals to get him back in contention. However by the time Croatia play their first serious qualifying matches the player will be into his 30's and it may not be possible for Budan with the injuries he's had to play both club and international football. Budan's Croatia career looks likely to pass without the country really seeing what he can do.

IVICA BANOVIC, SC Freiburg, Age 29
1 caps, 0 goals
Although Croatia are on the hunt for back up to Luka Modric, it appears Ivica Banovic has made his move just a little too late to enter the national team. Banovic is a first team regular in the side of Bundesliga 1 club SC Freiburg and is performing well in the central midfield scoring 3 goals so far and making 14 appearences. Although Banovic rise is probably more impressive then that which got Nenad Bjelica a late call up for the Euro 2004 squad, coach Slaven Bilic is looking for younger players and has sited Ivo Ilicevic, Ivan Perisic and Milan Badelj as more preferable options. Banovic has made a decent career in Germany with Nuremburg, Werder Bremen and with his current club. Banovic probably has not hit the heights however which he could have done and is likely to continue to have a good end to his career without international representation.

JERKO LEKO, Monaco, Age 29
59 caps, 2 goals
Jerko Leko has been the first casualty in Croatia's attempt to revamp their squad following failure to reach the 2010 World Cup. The all action midfielder infuriated many by failing to transfer despite being transfer listed by Monaco in the summer. Whilst Nikola Pokrivac came under huge criticism for failure to provide any creativity or defensive solidity in the absence of Luka Modric, it was in fact the more experienced Jerko Leko who should have been stepping in. However with no club action before him, Bilic was left with his hands tied and has now removed Leko from Croatia's squad. It is possible Leko could force his way back in. The player has huge experience in Champions League football with Dinamo Kiev and has been called up to every tournament squad Croatia qualified for since Euro 2004. However it is going to require consistent first team action and an improved attitude from the player to put the checked shirt back on again.

MARKO BABIC, Real Zaragoza, Age 28
49 caps, 3 goals
Whilst the forementioned players could struggle to find their way into Croatia's squad, Marko Babic is in the opposite situation. Babic was left out by Slaven Bilic for the Euro 2008 campaign and the 2010 qualifiers having lost form at Real Betis and Hertha Berlin. Babic however has already been sited for a potential return should he continue his improvement at Real Zaragoza. Babic is attempting to steal a march on Bayern Munich's Daniel Pranjic and Schalke's Ivan Rakitic who are both experiencing difficult seasons in the Bundesliga. Babic who was Croatia's best player in the 2006 World Cup still has the physical attributes and quality to make a return. He has seems to have a coach willing to give him a chance and it will be interesting to see the response of left midfielder as the season progresses. Babic has a lot of experience having played with Croatia in the 2006 World Cup and 2008 Euro qualifiers. He also has plenty of games behind him playing Champions League football with Bayer Leverkusen.

IVAN JURIC, Genoa, Age 34
5 caps, 0 goals
Whilst Ivan Juric's popularity remains in tact at Serie A side Genoa, the defensive midfielder struggled to win over Croatia fans during the 2010 qualifying campaign. It is likely that at 34 Juric has played his last match for the national team. Juric's call up appears to have just that bit too late in his career which started way back in 1994 with Hajduk Split. Juric disappeared of the radar for a long time during his 20's playing in Serie B and Serie C with Crotone, before his transfer to Genoa. Juric was inspiration in their promotion and they duely rose to fourth place in the top flight last season, with Juric at the heart of things. His performance in the match in which Croatia dropped two decisive points at home to Ukraine did little to inspire Croatia fans still looking for their new Niko Kovac. With the younger Ognjen Vukojevic, Nikola Pokrivac and newly capped Tomislav Dujmovic on board it appears there is no longer room for Juric who is likely to nevertheless stay for another season with high flying Genoa.

VEDRAN RUNJE, Lens, Age 33
12 caps, 0 goals
International recognition was a long time coming for Vedran Runje, who during the peak of his career with Standard Liege, Marsielle and Besiktas could not anything to get a call up into the Croatian national team missing every tournament from Euro 1996 to the 2006 World Cup as Miroslav Blazevic, Mirko Jozic, Otto Baric and Zlatko Kranjcar all overlooked him. It was only when Slaven Bilic took charge for the Euro 2008 qualifiers that Runje moved him up the pecking order to replace the injured Joey Didulica and retired Tomislav Butina. Runje did not make a good start Croatia's defence look a shambles in the 4-3 win over Israel whilst deputising for Stipe Pletikosa. Although called up for Euro 2008 he played just once in the match with Poland, but was introduced in place of a out of practice Pletikosa in 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign. Opinion is divided as to whether Runje did a good job. Since Runje's arrival in the team Croatia looked decidedly edgy from crosses and conceded 9 goals in the matches he played against England, Belarus, Kazakstan and Ukraine. Although he was a star performer in the Belarus match and made saves against England, he also caused moments of panics and his misskick in the England match is seen as the darkest moment in Croatia's ill fated campaign. Ultimately Croatia's defence experience meltdown with Vedran Corluka losing his cool and getting himself red carded and centre halfs Simunic and Krizanac being sent home prior to their last match against Kazakstan. Whilst Pletikosa, Mario Galinovic and Joey Didulica continue to play second choice at their clubs, Runje remains in the Croatia squad. At 33, soon to be 34 in February Croatia will be looking for a replacement as soon as possible.

Saturday, 28 November 2009


28 - 11 - 2009
New Australian league franchise Melbourne Heart are checking on Hajduk Split midfielder Josip Skoko in hope of signing the former Wigan midfielder at the end of the season. Skoko will not be renewing his contract with the Croatian club and looks set to leave on a free transfer. The club's general manager Joey Didulica, may also pursue the signing of his brother Josip who is currently second choice stopper at AZ Alkmaar. Other news coming out of Hajduk is that out of favour striker Ivan Rodic is set to be released by the club after failing to meet expectations. The 23 year old will be a free agent and would welcome a move back to his former club HNK Sibenik who will be searching out a replacement for Bosnian hotshot Ermin Zec

Sasa Bjelanovic scored his fourth goal of the season as Vicenza moved up to seventh place with a 2-1 win over Padova. The 30 year old former Croatia international is in good form having also netted in midweek win over Frionese. Mario Budimir was also on target as Ergotelis defeat Irakilis 2-0. Budimir is having another strong season in the Greek league, this being his third goal in the league. In the Czech league Slovan Liberec's Andrej Keric will be hugely relieved to be back amongst the goals as his side defeated Mlada Boleslav 3-0.

Tomislav Dujmovic will play Europa Liga football next season after helping his club Lokomotiv Moscow to finish in fourth place in the Russian Premier League. The 28 year old Croatia international play 28 times in the heart of Lokomotiv's midfield and scored 3 goals. 2009 marks a bright season for Dujmovic who has been sited by Slaven Bilic for selection in the national side next year.


Istra 1961 0 Dinamo 0
Dinamo missed an opportunity to extend their gap at the top after they were held to a goalless draw by Istra 1961. Dinamo were without Robert Kovac, Miroslav Slepicka, Ilija Sivonjic and Pedro Morales for the trip to Pula, so gave a start to Sammir, with Andrej Kramaric supporting Mario Mandzukic in attack. Istra however proved difficult to breakdown and coped admirably as Dinamo struggled to make chances in the first half. Papadopoulos entered the game at half time, but failed to improve things as Istra had the best opportunity from the penalty spot. However Asim Sehic's weak penalty was stopped by Butina. Istra who were beaten 7-1 by Dinamo on the opening day of the season have now picked up four points from three games under new coach Valdi Sumberac. Dinamo face Anderlecht in the Europa Liga in midweek and will hope to get Morales back as soon as possible. Elsewhere ex Dinamo defender Mirko Hrgovic is due to once again be a free agent after being sacked by German Bundesliga 2 club Greunther Furth. The 30 year old is due for talks with the club over the termination of his three year contract this week.

Hajduk Split 1 Osijek 0
Hajduk showed their first signs of recovery at the weekend after bypassing a tough Osijek side at the Poljud. Hajduk coach Edy Reja was without Hjorve Vejic and Srdjan Andric so turned to Marijan Buljat finally appearing at right back, with Goran Rubil pushed into midfield. Marin Tomasov dropped out to be replaced by Mirko Oremus with Ahmad Sharbini playing the lone strikers role. The first real chance fell to the visitors as Josip Knezevic's shot went inches past Subasic's post. Further opportunities for Hajduk's Ibricic and Ahmad Sharbini then came and went as the sides went in goalless at half time. Reja immediately changed Ticinovic in place of Oremus. The youngster immediately got in the action with a few sighters at Kardum's goal. It was Senijad Ibricic who came to the fore however. First supplying a chance for Maloca, before sealing the win from the penalty spot after Vedran Jugovic had handled on 85 minutes. Hajduk are now starting to make in roads and are just 3 points from Osijek in fourth. There is still a long way to go to catch Sibenik, but Reja's team are making steps in the right direction. Osijek will be happy to see Karlo Primorac return to the action as a late substitute, whilst Reja gave a first league appearence as a late sub to Dario Jertec.

Šibenik 2 Sesvete 0
Sibenik closed Dinamo Zagreb's lead at the top of HNL1 to just 3 points after a comfortable win over relegation favorites Sesvete. With Ermin Zec returning from suspension, Sibenik were able to make light work of the match taking the lead of 39 minutes through Ivan Bozic. With January transfer window Zec was eager to add to his tally and recorded his 8th of the campaign on 84 minutes to seal the victory. Sesvete look all but doomed as ten points adrift of four bottom Medimurje. Sibenik's hope of Europa Liga football however still look good. With one match to go till winter break attentions will soon turn to find a replacement for Zec.

Cibalia 2 Zadar 0
Cibalia moved into third place after another solid performance against out of form NK Zadar. Branko Karacic's men took the lead on 37 minutes when Josip Lukacevic struck from 15 metres. Then a moment of significance in the second half when substitute Tomislav Juric fired in a beautiful goal only minutes after coming on in the second half. Juric, was the young midfielder involved in the collision that resulted in Zadar's Hjorve Custic suffering a fatal head injury two years ago. It was only Juric's fifth match of the season and his first goal. By this stage both sides were down to ten men after red cards for Sime Maruna and Edin Husic. Cibalia continue to look good for a top 4 place, whilst Zadar urgently need a victory to stop their slide down the table. Zadar have been fending off questions in midweek over allegations last season's match with Hajduk Split was fixed. Zadar dispute the claims pointing to Marin Ljubicic's red card as a deciding factor in the game.

Lokomotiva 3 Rijeka 0
Lokomotiva showed their top flight credentials with a excellant 3-0 pounding of HNK Rijeka. Whilst Lokomotiva is brimming with youthful promise, it was a couple of old heads that stole the show. Former Borrusia Monchengladback defender Zjelko Sopic opened the scoring driving home a free kick for a much deserved lead. Nino Bule was then on hand to grab his eighth of the season in the second half turning home a cross by Bajto. Lokomotiva piled straight in from the kick off for a third and it came on 81 minutes when Alen Pamic turned passed his own keeper whilst trying to fend off Bule. Rijeka's dismal afternoon got no better as Slovenian Nastja Ceh went for an early bath after a straight red for a bad challenge. Lokomotiva have now moved level on points with Rijeka in 9th place and are still looking good for survival. Rijeka however could be looking to overhaul the squad in the winter after failing to challenge for the top 5 in the first half of the campaign.

NK Zagreb 3 Slaven Belupo 3
This was the game of the day in HNL1 as NK Zagreb pulled off a remarkable come back to draw 3-3 with Slaven Belupo. Belupo looked comfortable for much of the match and took the lead from the penalty spot from Srebrenko Posavec. Defender Kara Rogulj got the second just before half time struck in a crowded penalty area. With Zagreb attempting to reduce the rears, space was left for Belupo to counter and they grabbed their third when Under 21 international Mateas Delic beat Zagreb keeper Marin Skender. With only 20 minutes remaining it appeared the game was over, but the rejuvenated Ivan Kristanovic headed home on 74 minutes to set up a interesting last 10 minutes. Zagreb got their opening on 85 minutes when Kristanovic headed down Jethron long ball for Davor Piskor to score. It was then Jethon himself who grab the important morale boosting equalising goal in the last minute of the match when he fired home from 16 metres. Zagreb remain six points adrift of fourth from bottom Medimurje, but have lost ground on Varteks whose victory took them up to 11th place.

NK Zagreb have already begun their search for reinforcements and are close to signing four foriegn players - two unnamed Brazilians and two players with the North Korean National Team. The club should have also tie up the purchase of Krunoslav Lovrek when the Croatian league comes back from its winter break in February.

Karlovac 2 Međimurje 0
Karlovac put a immediate stop to their slide into midtable with a excellant 2-0 win over Medimurje. In form striker Enes Novicic got the opener when he followed in after Stefancic's shot was saved by Banovic. That's the way it stayed for a long period of the match until Ivan Latjman showed some real quality in the last minutes of the match to fire home a second. Igor Pamic's match stay in sixth place, but have put some breathing space between themself and 7th place Hajduk Split who are attempting to chase them down. Medimurje are now the team position fourth from bottom who Zagreb and Istra 1961 are tracking. However with 20 goals already to their name this season Medimurje can still be helpful of moving back into midtable.

Varteks 2 Inter 1
Varteks recorded a crucial win over fellow strugglers Inter Zapresic to move themselves six points clear of the relegation zone. However it was Zapresic who drew first blood Miroslav Saric scored from the penalty spot, but the lead lasted no more than a minutes when Matija Smrekar showed his quality to equalise after being set up by Goran Mujanovic. It stayed that way until midway through the second half when Smrekar was felled by Tomislav Saric. Miljenko Mumlek stepped up to the spot and dispatched the penalty with ease. Zapresic welcomed back Matej Delac for the match who has spent a short time away with Chelsea upon recovery from illness.

HNL1 Top Scorers
12. Pedro Morales (Dinamo); 9. Davor Vugrinec (Zagreb); 8. Mario Mandzukic (Dinamo), Ermin Zec (Sibenik), Nino Bule (Lokomotiva); 7. Bojan Golubovic (Medimurje), Asim Sehic (Istra), Milan Badelj (Dinamo)

Thursday, 26 November 2009


Following Croatia failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup coach Slaven Bilic has looked to a new crop of players to come into the first team for the campaign for the 2012 European Championship qualifying. Mate Bilic, Tomislav Dujmovic, Nikica Jelavic, Dario Knezevic and Ivan Perisic have already been drafted in the set up. But who are the other names pushing for international recognition based on their performances during the first half of this season.

At 29, Andre Mijatovic is hardly a new face. However the Arminia Bielfeld defender has been in good form as his side aim a quick return to German's top flight. Dinamo Zagreb's Dejan Lovren is also pushing hard to take over from his club teammate Robert Kovac in the international set up. Lovren performed excellantly in Croatia's final World Cup qualifying match with Kazahkstan. He is also hugely versatile able to play all across the backline. Slaven Bilic will also be pleased with the development of Osijek's robust defender Domogoj Vida who struck the winner in the Under 21's victory over Slovakia to put them top of their European Championship qualification group.

In midfield Drago Gabric played a solid match in the recent friendly with Leichenstien and offers an alternative to the talents of Dario Srna, Niko Kranjcar, Ivan Rakitic and Daniel Pranjic in the wide positions. Gabric's recent form for Turkish club Trabzonspor should see him step ahead of Hajduk Split's Anas Sharbini in the pecking order. In central midfield Croatia have long been looking for an alternative to Luka Modric, who is widely regarded as the heartbeat of the team. Kaiserslautern's Ivo Ilicevic has sited as a potential national team player and is having his best season to date with the German Bundesliga 2 leaders. The 23 year old is hugely talented and creative and hopes to step up this term when Croatia need him. Ilicevic however will receive fierce competition from Milan Badelj who along with Pedro Morales has been Dinamo Zagreb best player this season. Badelj has been trained in the same way as Modric, playing in the centre in a 4-4-2 system with the ability to run at opponent and supply defence splitting passes.

New young strikers have been few and far between for Croatia. In the Under 21's Nikola Kalinic is employed largely on his own whilst partner Perisic is regarded as a midfield player rather than a striker. With Ivan Klasnic, Igor Budan and Ivica Olic having now turned 30, Croatia will be looking for fresh faces in the forward line. Daniel Cesarec will come in contention should he keep up his form with Asteras tripolis. However Mario Mandzukic, Kalinic, Darko Bodul, Ahmad Sharbini and Bojan Vrucina all appear to have gone backwards in their progress, allowing Cesarec and most notably Nikica Jelavic to come to the fore. Jelavic has scored 15 goals already in all competitions and is set for continued inclusion in the squad for the upcoming matches.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Croatian Soccer Blog wishes to begin a competition to guess who will be the highest scoring Croatian player playing in a foriegn country. This excludes any players playing in the Croatian national league or players in lower than second tier football.

It is in interesting competition as it includes goals scored in Cup competitions as well as the league. Something helpful stats will be put up along the way, but all guesses must be made by the end of 2009.

There is no prize as of this moment. Its all for fun.

15 - Nikica Jelavic
9 - Mladen Petric, Daniel Cesarec
8 - Mato Neretljak
6 - Ivan Perisic, Ivan Klasnic
5 - Mladen Bartulovic
4 - Eduardo, Bosko Balaban, Nikola Pokrivac, Sasa Bjelanovic, Igor Budan
3 - Tomislav Dujmovic, Mate Bilic, Niko Kranjcar, Ivo Ilicevic, Tomo Sokota, Mario Carevic, Ivica Olic, Mario Budimir, Andrej Keric
2 - Dario Srna, Andre Mijatovic, Ivica Krizanac, Ante Rukavina
1 - Vedran Corluka, Drago Gabric, Tomislav Busic, Zdavko Popovic

Sunday, 22 November 2009


Following Hajduk's unimpressive performance in front of goal in the first half of the Croatian Championship it is likely the Whites will hunt for a new striker to fill the boots of Nikola Kalinic. Kalinic left the Poljud in the summer for 6m Euro and thus far Ahmad Sharbini, Ante Vukusic or Paraiba have failed to delivered the same quantity of goals to fill the void.

Although Hajduk spent some of the Kalinic money on Anas and Ahmad Sharbini from Rijeka, they should still have a sizable amount for signings in the winter. Should Hajduk cash in on Senijad Ibricic this should also raise funds in case they move forward with plans to terminate players they regards surplus to requirements. Such players include Dario Jertec, Ivo Smoje and Ivan Rodic.

In the Croatian national championship there is few strikers that stand out who Hajduk may move for. For the past two years Sibenik's Ermin Zec and Slaven Belupo's Bojan Vrucina have stood out amongst the rest. Vrucina has just returned from injury, however Belupo appear to be preparing for life without the 24 year old who was targetted by FK Moscow in the summer. Zec will be high on both Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk's wishlist after another impressive season this year. However the player is unlikely to transfer for less than 2m Euro's and Hajduk may struggle to prize the Bosnian international away from a rival for the Europa Liga spots.

Osijek's Ivan Milicevic, Slaven Belupo's Mateas Delic and Varteks Matija Smrekar would fit the category of strikers with potential. However having got their fingers burnt when signing Rodic, Hajduk may be wary of making any deals based on early promise. Hajduk may therefore look abroad for a striker playing well in another foriegn league or a player with experience that can aclimitize quickly to the Croatian league. Vicenza's Sasa Bjelanovic would fit into this category after forging a decent career in Italy with Chievo, Ascoli, Torino, Lecce and Genoa. Similarly Palermo's Igor Budan and Slovan Liberec's Andrej Keric have proven themselves abroad.

Following Dinamo's unsuccessful purchase of free agent Dmitrios Papadopoulos and Rijeka's far from inspiring recruitment of American journeyman Johann Smith, it would appear unlikely Hajduk would enter into the free transfer section of market. It is likely free agent Goran Ljubojevic or Excelsior Mouscron's Zvonimir Deranja make interesting purchases for Hajduk anymore having spent far too long away from the field.

In Autumn, Slovenian Under 21 international Etien Velikonja (pictured) was mentioned and this would have been a done deal if the player had not recieved an injury which is likely to put him out for the rest of the season. It is certain Vukusic, Duje Cop and loanee Paraiba will continue to be part of Hajduk's plans, however Rodic definitely seems on the way out and a question mark hangs over Ahmad Sharbini's future as the player may gain overtures from former club Rijeka in the winter if he stays out in the cold.



Croatia is becoming well known for its late bloomers. Dado Prso, Tomislav Maric, Ivan Juric and Tomislav Dujmovic were all relative unknowns until experiencing a upturn in fortunes during their mid to late 20's. Add to that list Asteras Tripolis striker Daniel Cesarec. It is likely few Croats would have heard of this 1.84m centre forward who currently leads the Greek Superleague's national scoring charts with 8 goals in 10 matches.

Cesarec first arrived in Greece back in 2005 from Sparta Prague on loan at Akratitos. He eventually signed for Egaleo, but endured two lean years there scoring just 5 goals. He moved across to Asteras in 2007 and has performed significantly better netting 16 times during his first two seasons. This season his eight goal haul in the league, nine in all competitions is his best tally to date. Aged 26 and born in Slavonski Brod, Cesarec is a native of Croatia and began his career with Marsonia. With Slaven Bilic on the hunt for new players to add competition in the Croatia national team, Cesarec has every chance of putting on the red and white checks before the end of the season should he remain prolific. The forward has a number of attributes being physical strong as well as mobile. He is also blessed with a powerful shot and is also dangerous in the air.

Cesarec is also eligible to play for the Czech Republic having spent three unsuccessful years in the country playing with Sparta Prague and Pribram. Despite his disappointing form at Sparta, the player could still be courted by the Czech Republic who are looking to revamp their side after a poor showing in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. However as the player has already play three times for Croatia Under 21's its more likely Cesarec will play for Croatia.


MARIO MANDZUKIC Aged 23; Dinamo Zagreb

How good is the word of Dinamo Cheif Executive Zdavko Mamic is what will be asked around Croatian Media during the winter, as Mario Mandzukic is once again likely to attract interest from clubs abroad. Werder Bremen saw good offers in the 8 million Euro region rejected. There were also rumours of interest from Tottenham to take Mandzukic as replacement for unsettled Russian striker Roman Pavyulchenko. The other hot possibility could be Wolfsburg as Edin Dzeko seems destined for a big money transfer in the winter or the summer. So what is all the fuss regarding this 1.86m mobile striker. Mandzukic started his career with Marsonia, before transfering across to NK Zagreb in 2005. A couple of fine seasons under the guise of Miroslav Blazevic saw Dinamo pay around £1m for the player in 2007. That has however been a bargain as Mandzukic improved year after year, scoring 12 in his first season, 16 second time out and so far 8 in total in this campaign. Mandzukic is also not just a penalty box scorer as has provided 22 assists in his first two seasons in HNL1. For Croatia he netted his first goal in the 4-1 defeat to England as a late substitute. He has since been called up to every other squad by Slaven Bilic, who uses him regularly. For Dinamo fans the question remains if Mamic will keep his word that he will not transfer the player till the end of the season.

ERMIN ZEC Aged 21; HNK Sibenik

HNK Sibenik are infamous in Croatia for driving a hard bargain, but stunned everyone when they sent the best of the Bundesliga along with Red Bull Salzburg, Dinamo and Hajduk packing when in pursuit of their star striker Ermin Zec during the summer. The reason being for the confidence of this modest Croatian side is that they contracted Zec to a contract that won't run out till 2011. Sibenik believed their Bosnian Under 21 international would justify the £2m price tag they put on him in his second season and he has duely done that, leaving Dinamo particularly in a situation where they may just pay the cash to fend off bigger rivals. If Zec continues his form however he will be an asset to Dinamo and becomes a direct and arguably more polished replacement for the sometimes wayward Mario Mandzukic.Zec is actually only 21 and doesn't turn 22 till June 2010. Since arriving at Sibenik from Iskra Bugojno in 2007, Zec showed his promised with 7 in his first season. He was rewarded with a first team place last year and netted 14 times. This season the goals have continued with 5 in 7 matches. Zec accepted Sibenik's decision to keep him in the summer, but in the winter will be granted his transfer. It is certain Dinamo will want the player and may have the financial muscle to compete with clubs abroad. However it is unlikely Sibenik who give them any favours. From Sibeniks point of view, they are in the healthiest financial position of their life. Having already done deals with Hajduk Split for Ante Rukavina and Ivan Rodic, the Zec transfer money will take the whole stature of the club up another level. The club has now unearthed another star in Arjan Ademi and with a team that is certain to be strengthened this winter it is likely we will see Sibenik in the top half for many years.

DARIO JERTEC Aged 24, Hajduk Split

Dario Jertec will hope for a resolution to his wayward career thus far during the winter. The 24 year old is likely to be on Hajduk's unwanted list and will be doing everything possible to shift out the player. A return to Varteks Varazdin was mentioned, but they have since revealed that the club are unable to pay their staff wages and are in a poor financial predicament. Jertec also enjoyed a successful loan spell in 2007 at HNK Rijeka and so a return back to the club coached by Zoran Vulic could be highly possible.Any lower level transfer will depend on Jertec and Hajduk agreeing to sever his contract that runs till 2012. Jertec has been with Hajduk since they signed him last season on a free transfer from Dinamo. However the player played only 15 times and upon refusing to reduce his wage was sent to the reserves in July. Hajduk see no potential in making something of the player as Mirko Oremus, Mario Ticinovic, Seinjad Ibricic, Florin Cernat and Anas Sharbini all blocked his access into the first team.

IVAN RODIC Aged 23, Hajduk Split

Ivan Rodic's time with Hajduk has not been the happiest for the player since he arrived in the summer from HNK Sibenik. With his agent and the club far from on speaking terms Rodic has decided the best thing for all concerned would be to transfer. With Rodic only having scored 9 goals in 27 matches during his very first top level experience at Sibenik, Hajduk perhaps should have waited a little longer to see if this mobile forward met their expectation level. Rodic has fallen way down the pecking order at Hajduk and joins Hajduk's Split grow list of out of favour players.For Rodic, at 23 leaving Hajduk is far from the end of the world. Besides this is his best pay packet to date Rodic still potentially can turn around his career. Should Bojan Vrucina transfer from Slaven Belupo a forward of Rodic's quality would be high on their priority list. Once again HNK Rijeka could come courting with Sibenik also perhaps considering a cheeky punt on signing their ex player back.

SENIJAD IBRICIC Aged 24, Hajduk Split

It seems impossible to believe Senijad Ibricic could stay with Hajduk Split into next year. In contrast to Nikola Kalinic and Drago Gabric, Ibricic arguably has the biggest case for signing with a strong foreign based club. The 24 year old is on the brink of the becoming a first team regular for the Bosnia Herzegovina national side having already been capped 18 times scoring 3 goals and is now into his fourth high quality season in the Croatian First Division. Fortunately for Hajduk this is one player who will not hold them to ransom as he is contracted to 2012 and has left his football do his talking. Ibricic's transfer will most likely happen naturally and interest from German and England will lead to the player, playing in a level that he deserves.Ibricic was hot property ever since scoring 12 goals in 31 games in 2007/ 08 season for NK Zagreb. A big money transfer to Hajduk Split followed and Ibricic has not disappointed. Last season he fired 12 in 30 games and at times provided rare moments of light in Hajduk's poor start to this campaign. Ibricic's transfer is expected to compensate for money being flittered away on high player wage costs and transfer fees as Hajduk attempt to rebuild, whilst remaining financially secure. Ibricic is now a slight luxury to Hajduk whoever already have plenty of players to cover his position and would more than likely grant him permission to move up his career to better things. Out of all the promising young Balkan talents this could be the next big star to shine in a big league.


If Hajduk Split move for midfield destroyer Marin Ljubicic they may be willing to take the player through the back door. The 21 year old had been a Hajduk Split player who advanced through their youth team to make 20 appearences in the 2007/08 season. Rather than being loaned out, Hajduk allowed the player to join Zadar on a free transfer and he has since been impressive. Ljubicic played 24 times and scored 4 goals last season. His strong start to the new season has attracted Dinamo Zagreb who may move for the player if they sell Ivica Vrdoljak and advances for Jerko Leko do not materialise. Ljubicic is seen as one the best midfielders in the division and should be available for a decent fee.

MIROSLAV SLEPICKA Aged 27, Dinamo Zagreb

Is it the end of the road for Miroslav Slepicka 12 months on from his arrival in Croatia from Sparta Prague. Slepicka was signed in to replace the outgoing Bosko Balaban and Tomislav Sokota, but has struggled to command a first team place. Despite scoring 8 goals in 15 league games for Dinamo, Slepicka's figures are made somewhat deceptive by the fact he scored in only four of those matches, two of them hatricks. His history in the Czech Republic would also suggest he is not a natural goalscorer, more a withdrawn striker with good technical ability. Slepicka's international coach is hardly likely to be impressed by the forward's lack of playing time this year and Slepicka may therefore decide its time to move on. Slepicka still has the stats to attract a Bundesliga 2 club or side in Austria or Russia, but Dinamo will have to take a loss on the player they paid over £1m for. If Slepicka continues with Dinamo and offer him more minutes, then they will consider loaning out Andrej Kramaric.

IVICA VRDOLJAK Aged 26; Dinamo Zagreb

At age 26 Ivica Vrdoljak has reached a key stage in his career. The player either will remain a central member of Dinamo's team long term as the club appears to match his level or he will transfer abroad in hope of becoming a Croatian international one day in the near future. If Dinamo need to sell to keep the finances in a continually healthy state it is more likely they'd sell Vrdoljak in order to delay Mandzukic's transfer. Both Cologne and Red Bull Salzburg showed an interest in Vrdoljak in the summer. He has since put in some half decent displays in Europe and been consistently strong in HNL1. Zdavko Mamic was even considering letting the player go in the summer, but decided Adrian Callelo and Matias Chago were not sufficent to take his place. The question of his transfer will most likely raise its head once again a bid possible from Turkey, Germany, France or Austria.

JURICA VRANJES Aged 29; Werder Bremen
Vranjes may seem a surprising player to appear with respect to HNL1. However Dinamo and Hajduk Split are infamous for rescuing one Croatian star from abroad every season. Vranjes has been linked with a return to the Croatian league once before whilst with Bayer Leverkusen, but a loan transfer to Hajduk failed to materialise. It is not out the question for Hajduk to make this transfer this time. The logic behind it would be to replace Josip Skoko who has already stated his intention to leave Europe in the summer and return home to Australia. In truth Vranjes is far from old legs looking for more playing packet. Vranjes has spent so much time warming benches in his career that he admittedly that he snapped early in the season when he attacked teammate Said Husejinovic. Vranjes is clearly a player who needs returning to the field of play for his own good and may be capable of a revival. Vranjes was tipped for great by Mirko Jozic when he called him the 2002 World Cup squad and has been capped 26 times for Croatia. Despite tenures with big clubs like Leverkusen, Stuggart and Bremen he was unable to become a regular and couldn't dislodge Croatia's Niko Kovac from the national side. If not for Vranjes, Hajduk's may alternatively move for Dinamo Kiev defender Goran Sablic to replace the aging legs of Hjorve Vejic.

STJEPAN POLJAK Age 26, Eskiserispor

Should Stjepan Poljak enter the market then it could create one of the biggest scraps for a players signature. The 26 year old remains hot property in Croatia after a excellant 2007/ 08 season with Slaven Belupo. Despite playing 29 times last season for Eskiserspor, the Turkish club attempted to release the player during the summer. Poljak however stuck to his guns and has since made an appearence back in the first team. The player himself may decide things aren't working out due to lack of playing time and a return home may be best for all parties. Poljak's signature will be of interest to most of the teams in Croatia excluding Dinamo and Hajduk. A deal with Slaven Belupo will most likely only occur in the summer as their midfield is currently over occupied.

MARIN TOMASOV Aged 22, Hajduk Split

A year ago things couldn't have been better for Marin Tomasov. Having played excellant football in the Croatian Under 21's he transfered from NK Zadar to Hajduk Split. Ante Mise took an immediately liking to him and employed him 15 times scoring 1 goal last season. At the start this season Mise hoped to bring the player forward in his progress, but a poor standard to the campaign appears to have destabilised the player and he now finds himself out of favour. With Anas Sharbini patrolling the left wing it seems unlikely Tomasov can get his place back. Mario Ticinovic also seems to have jumped ahead of him for a place on the bench. It'd be highly doubtful Hajduk will terminate the contract of the player or sell him cheaply to another HNL1 club. However a loan move this winter may be the best thing for Tomasov to rebuild his confidence. Having released Marin Ljubicic, Hajduk wouldn't want to be bitten twice so will still hope Tomasov can find his form.

FILIP MARCIC Aged 24, Free Agent

After breaking his contract with Danish Club Mitylland, Filip Marcic will be hugely sought after back in his native Croatia. Marcic began his career as a trainee with Hajduk Split, before moving across to Bordeaux. However having failed to make the grade there he returned to Hajduk, but was once again farmed out to HNK Rijeka. One season here proved far more successful and a transfer to Denmark followed. Injuries has restricted him to just seven appearences in two seasons, leaving Marcic disatisfied. Marcic is the type of player which many HNL1 coaches have been sounding out in recent months and a transfer to a Croatian club could be hugely possible.


In the winter many Croatian sides will be once again strapped for cash and will turn to the free agent market in order to pick up bargain deals. But are there many deals to be had in this market or will they just be scraping at the bottom of the buscuit barrel. Lets take a look at the possible targets for HNL1's clubs.Former Croatia Under 21 striker Goran Ljubojevic has been a free agent since September when he was released by Racing Genk. The 26 year old had talked of a move to Belgium, however with little offers on the table a move back home looks increasingly possible. Ljubojevic's ex Racing Genk teammate Ivan Bosnjak is also struggling to make an impression in Greek club Irakilis and a transfer to Croatia may revive his ailing career. Likewise Zvonimir Deranja is yet to be made a free agent, but continues to see little to no playing time with financially threatened Belgian side Excelsior Mouscron.

One player who may be a bargain purchase is 26 year old midfielder Marko Maric who terminated his contract at Lille after making just one appearence in two seasons. Ex Rijeka and Hajduk Split defender Darko Miladin is also hunting for a new club, along with Hjorve Vukovic who last played with Alemania Aachen in Bundesliga 2, whilst Dario Smoje is struggling for a game at Pananios.

Regards keepers a series of ex Dinamo custodians are searching for new surroundings. 29 year old former Legia Warsaw stopper Ivan Turina has been training with Dinamo for the last few months and looks almost certain to sign to a new club in the winter. Larrisa's Tomislav Vranjic and Baku's Marko Sarlija could also prove attractive signings for a HNL1 side in need of a number 1.

The prize coups within the grasps of HNL1's bigger clubs however would command compensation fees. Eskirespor's playmaker Stjepan Poljak appears to still have a lot to give, but his time in Turkey certainly now looks over as the player made just one appearence all season. Energie Cottbus midfielder Stiven Rivic also is young enough to experience a revival in Croatia. The 24 year old is contracted to the Bundesliga 2 side till 2011 so would require payment of a transfer fee. For Hajduk and Dinamo both who may hunt for a defensive midfielder with Josip Skoko and Ivica Vrdoljak rumoured to be departing ex Croatia internationals Jurica Vranjes and Jerko Leko would both be up for sale in the winter.

The top target however is in Italy's Serie B where Sasa Bjelanovic may be willing to trade his position at Vicenza who are treading water in midtable. For Dinamo particularly, Bjelanovic may prove a much cheaper and more clinical forward than the misfiring Dmitrios Papadopoulos and Miroslav Slepicka. Bjelanovic is unlikely to command such high wages and has a reputation for dispatching the kind of chances Dinamo have been creating for their forwards on a regular basis.Former HNK Rijeka defender Filip Marcic would be a positive introduction to a number of HNL1 sides having just left Danish club Mittydlland. Khimki's Bosnian international winger Dragan Blatnjak also could be hunting new surrounding after his team were relegated from the Russian Premier League. Blatnjak is the clubs captain and has two years left on his contract, but may be willing to trade this in for top flight football.